Stuff’s Josh Borthwick on venturing into video

Last week, Stuff expanded its portfolio with a video platform dubbed Play Stuff. A curation of news and entertainment, it’s Stuff’s response to the growth in online video in New Zealand.

“I think from a consumer perspective, there’s lots of choice around video but we think there’s an interesting gap between Netflix and YouTube,” says Josh Borthwick, Stuff commercial director of direct and agency, when asked about the plethora of existing video services on offer in New Zealand.

“In between that, there’s all this really good, local created content in short-form and long-form,” and that’s where Play Stuff fits in.

At the time of its launch, there are more than 10,000 titles from Stuff and its partners including BBC, Reuters, Vice, Red Bull, Bravo New Zealand, NZ On Screen and Madman.

There will be new content added daily.

But why should Stuff, a news organisation, be the one to deliver that content?

Borthwick says it’s a continuation of Stuff’s existing content offer, with more than two million New Zealanders accessing Stuff every month across devices.

It’s that reach across New Zealand, combined with the trust people’s have in Stuff’s journalism that Borthwick hopes will resonate with advertisers, especially considering the activity with some of the major digital players—think Facebook and Christchurch.

“Play Stuff opens up a multitude of powerful new opportunities for our advertising partners who want to have their brands presented in a safe, quality environment,” he says.

Like other video platforms, there are pre-roll and mid-roll places available depending on the video’s length.

Borthwick adds its new library of video content is a solution to Stuff’s former problem of demand for advertising outstripping supply of spaces.

The new video platform joins Stuff Pix, the company’s existing streaming that launched back in 2017. However, unlike Play Stuff, Stuff Pix is a paid-service, offering movies-on-demand like a DVD store would.

After a couple of years in the market, Borthwick says Stuff Pix is going well.

“It’s a really different offering to Play Stuff – we are talking Hollywood movies and paid-for content, so it sits in a space alongside iTunes and I think in terms of what it delivers and the audiences we are getting, we are happy with it.

“But it’s early days and even a couple of years in we are still formulating where to next for that.”

Prior to Stuff entering the movies streaming business, it ventured into energy, with energyclubnz, and internet with Stuff Fibre.

The additions to Stuff’s business are the result of its search to diversify its revenue streams in order to fund journalism at a time when advertising revenue is being shared by more and more players and more and more platforms.

The realities of the challenges to fund journalism were realised by Stuff last year as it axed a number of journalism roles across the country and closed 25 community and rural newspapers.

In February last year when it announced a plan to close or sell 28 titles, Fairfax Media chief executive and managing director Greg Hywood said:

“We have enormous confidence that Stuff is heading towards sustained growth as its digital business continues its strong momentum. We have acted decisively to bring this forward, and are announcing today a plan to exit around 35 percent of our New Zealand print publications through sale or closure.

“The rationalisation of these smaller community titles and free inserts will deliver additional EBITDA contribution over a full year – and bring forward the time when increased in digital revenue outweigh declines in print.”

It’s a reality all media companies locally and globally are facing and when asked if Stuff’s ever considered a paywall option—which NZ Herald implemented earlier this year—Borthwick says it wouldn’t rule it out, but there would be more thinking to do if it was ever to venture down that path.

“I think what we’ve learned from what’s been done here and what’s been done overseas is that people will be prepared to pay for things that they want, not necessarily the things you determine should sit behind a wall. I think there’s a lot of work that needs to go into that to figure out what that experience looks like and deliver really well on that.”

Continuing to look into the future, Borthwick says it’s also looking at how it can customise experiences for audiences across its platforms.

Asked if one day Play Stuff users will get a ‘tonight you’ll be watching’ suggestion, it doesn’t seem entirely out of reach.

“We have a vision of having five million versions of Stuff and so there’s a version of Stuff for every person in the country – that extends to our video as well,” he says.

“We want it to be customised.”

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